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KTWriteOnJust in time to help power your new year’s writing resolution, we’re introducing the Kite Tales Writing Prompt: #KTWriteOn. Each quarter, we’ll feature a writing challenge crafted by a kid-lit publishing professional. To kick things off, here’s a writing prompt created by Chronicle Books Senior Editor Melissa Manlove. As a bonus, Melissa is inviting submissions related to this exercise. Read on for details.

By Melissa Manlove

This writing prompt is for storytellers. Even those of you not interested in nonfiction—keep reading! We need you!¹

Children’s narrative nonfiction is a big growth area, but a LOT of the growth is clustered in the biography section. That’s a great thing for that section—but it means there is a vast area of opportunity in the rest of nonfiction, especially science.

Melissa ManloveI don’t mean there aren’t some AMAZING narrative nonfiction books being published in the science section. There are. But there could be a LOT more. The money is, figuratively, sitting on my desk. Come and get it!

There are plenty of different ways to approach nonfiction in a way that gives it voice and personality and life². This prompt is specifically for people who care about narrative arc. Narrative arc is built on change in emotional state over the course of the book. It’s (relatively) easy to see how you could describe the changes in a historical figure’s emotional state over the course of their life, and I think that’s why the storytellers who are venturing into nonfiction are gravitating toward biography.

But when your subject is not a person… sharks, for instance…  you have to think about the change in emotional state you want for your reader. Let’s take as an example the terrific Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy (Roaring Brook / David Macaulay Studio). Her book does this beautiful job of starting in the same emotional place most people start: sharks are SCARY. From there, it leads us into the many cool details of sharks and lures us to a next emotional state: sharks are FASCINATING. And once it has us there, it hooks us with sharks are VULNERABLE. These powerful, terrifying predators? They’re endangered. We humans have the power to kill them. Or… we can save them.

Neighborhood-Sharks-Kaherine-RoyJust like that, we move from FEAR to FASCINATION to SYMPATHY. And we learned a bunch about sharks!

Now you: Choose one of the below.

  1. Choose a science/other nonfiction topic that you DON’T know much about, but about which you have some strong feeling, and research it until the way you feel about it changes. Put that emotional journey on the page so that readers feel it, too.
  2. Choose a science/other nonfiction topic that you DO know about, but about which you have a strong feeling that is very different from the feeling you had before you knew about the topic. Put that emotional journey on the page so that readers feel it, too.

The world is a fascinating, exciting, scary, moving, beautiful place, and we do both kids and books a disservice when we describe the world in ways that ignore the emotional power of the world and each reader’s personal power to care.

¹ I mean, those of you not interested in research…  well, this isn’t going to work for you. Thoughtful, thorough research is KEY in nonfiction.

² And I want ALL of those ways, so if you have an idea for an approach that doesn’t match this prompt, SEND IT TO CHRONICLE ANYWAY³.

³ Read and follow our children’s submission guidelines, please!

To share the topic youll be researching and/or the one-sentence emotional arc you surrounding it: Comment on this blog post or Tweet us @SCBWISOCALLA with the hashtag #KTWriteOn.

Follow Melissa on Twitter: @mmanlove

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Images by Dustin Lee on Unsplash, Melissa Manlove, and Roaring Brook / David Macaulay Studio.